May 2024
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When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro

Christopher Banks was orphaned as a child when he lived in Shanghai.  He insists that his family situation has had no effect on his life, but in reality, the novel reveals piece by piece how unreliable he is and how much his childhood has severely affected the rest of his life.  Ishiguro contrasts his childhood in Shanghai with his immediate life as a British detective.

I adore Ishiguro’s writing.  Something about his prose draws me in and I can’t look up until I’ve finished the entire book.  It is restrained, elegant, but it always conveys a hidden depth of emotion and meaning.  He says so much without actually saying anything at all, and I love it.  This is probably why he’s a master of the unreliable narrator.

This book isn’t much liked compared to Ishiguro’s others, based on the LibraryThing rating and reviews.  This seems to be largely because towards the end, Christopher makes some silly decisions.  This didn’t bother me; it seems that when it comes to his parents he has a child’s mentality despite his brilliance in other areas (which is never actually demostrated to us, unfortunately).

When We Were Orphans has the most plot of any Ishiguro novel I’ve read – most of them seem to meander through time to come to a fixed realization at the end.  This one doesn’t quite do that and actually the plot comes together to reveal something that the reader has known for a while.  I definitely still enjoyed it, though, as it almost creates a feeling of suspense that isn’t present in his other novels, because it’s hard to say in the beginning why things are happening as they are.

What did I like the most?  I think the ties between orphans, their shared childhood memories, and how it changed them, all of them, but also how they are connected because of their shared loss.  It was poignant, bitterly sweet, something that Ishiguro excels at.  This book is almost too full of his skills, and it has cemented his place as one of my favorite authors.  I doubt he is ever again going to match the brilliance of The Remains of the Day, but this novel is still very, very good. Buy this book on Amazon.


4 comments to When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro

  • I was planning on getting The Remains of the Day to read to my mother (She loved the film; I’ve never read the book or seen the movie) and I think I’ll pick this one up at the same time. Thank you for the review!

  • I love Ishiguro but I haven’t read this. I’ll have to put it on my wishlist- thanks for talking about it! :-)

  • Meghan

    I’m glad you both are interested! I really did like it, and especially recommend it if you already like Ishiguro. =)

  • I have had this one on my To Be Read shelf for a while now. I’ll definitely have to move it up on the list. Thanks for the review!